Thoughts on “Worldview Thinking” (Part Two)

In the last section, I dealt with the origin of “worldview thinking” and discussed secular and modern man’s futility in constructing such a structure. In this section, I will focus on the statement that I made in the last blog. I asserted that I see dangers in the recent goals of many schools that seek to produce students who are “worldview thinkers”. I am fearful of the current usage of worldview thinking as the ultimate paradigm within which a school works.

In the past, Christians viewed the world in terms of a narrative, not a philosophical construct (yes, I would place worldview thinking in this category). Look at the way Scripture reveals the Holy Trinity – through narrative. Compare that with, let’s say, systematic theology or the terms that come up in worldview thinking: for examples, superlapsarianism or epistemology. Peter Leithart offers this challenge: look at the concordance of your Bible and then the index of systematic theology books. One uses concepts and terms that are full of life and humanness – one is more sterile and scientific.

Don’t get me wrong – as I stated in the last blog, attempting to unify the particulars of the world by way of a universal and philosophical whole is important. I see much value in working through the process of thinking through categories and systems. But the question is where do we ultimately derive our categories? From a modern philosophical push toward epistemology and ontology or from the life-giving categories and framework of the Biblical narrative – the cadence of sin, redemption and glory.

What does viewing the world in terms of systems look like in the life of a student? They will begin to use the vocabulary of philosophy and moralism. The worldview thinker is tempted to look at world through a system. Isaac Newton once described God as the Great Engineer. At first, that seems like a very Christian statement and Newton intended it to be. However, if God is the Great Engineer then the universe is an engine to be viewed in terms of mechanistic cause and effect. Is that how we want our students to view the universe? Is this how God views that universe and nature?

I’ve also seen the tendency in students to view others and their beliefs in terms of “worldviews”. The result is attempting to fit others in philosophical view of the world – to reduce others into a system to be refuted in order to fulfill a mandate. Life and people come at us for the most part in narrative – not propositions and syllogisms.

As Christians we don’t ultimately view truth as just a system of questions to be asked nor a system of belief. We view Truth as a Person – the person of Christ – the logos, the Word – the ultimate unifying principle. Persons are best revealed through narrative (mythos) not systematic propositions.

We fought the rational propositional battle of the twentieth century and lost. What we need is a recovery of Truth as mythological – an articulation of Truth as both narrative and story (mythical) and rational propositions (logical) met in the Person of Christ – the pattern of Scripture.

I would urge you to take these thoughts seriously in light of the foundational truths of your school and goals for your students. My goal would be that the students use the gospel narrative as a paradigm for making life decisions and viewing others – not solely in terms of a rational philosophy of life and the viewing of others in terms of a worldview position to be deconstructed. The former is more human and I believe more Christian.

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12 Responses

  1. Aha. Thank you for your patience with me, Andrew. Would it be fair to see much Postmodern thinking tying into Perspectivism, then? That is where I tend to hear that kind of thinking. I am just not familiar with that term for it.

    I appreciated Mr. Cothran’s suggestion on the other thread that perhaps “First Principles” would be a better term. 🙂

    • Yes, Postmodernism is absolutely driven by Perspectivism. All modern approaches are. We learned that there are many different cultures, so at first we figured we must be better than them. Now we figure we must all be equal and what morons we were for thinking we were better. We’ve panicked over the complexity of the question. And Postmodernism, in its essence, is an expression of that panic.

  2. Dear Buck-

    I agree with you completely. Like all good things, worldviews teaching can be misapplied and misused, and can become a sort of weapon instead of a tool. But asa Christian educator, I have to teach all propositional truth in the context of the Scriptural narrative. And I am up front with my worldviews class and their parents that we will be learning to look through the lens of Scripture, not through all worldview lenses equally. That would never meet my goal of challenging young believers to stand for Christ, and love and evangelize their neighbors. My goal in studying the worldview of non-Christian viewpoints is to provide some basis of understanding for approaching those with that worldview. It is not to teach my students to accept or revere that worldview as truth. As you state, there is only One real Logos who is All in All.

    That said, I know not all worldview education comes from this position, more’s the pity.

    Thanks for these additional thoughts!

    Chris in NM, truly interested in the discussion, and hoping she doesn’t sound as if she’s just pushing her own agenda or justifying her own existence…

    • I have to chime in here because I have a complicated relationship to this notion of worldview. To reduce it to something more or less simple, let me put it this way:

      I grew up reading Lewis and Schaeffer, as did most thinking Christians of my generation. Schaeffer popularized the term worldview among Christians and did a great service in doing so.

      However, since then, I have, because Lewis and Schaeffer set the pattern for me, studied a good bit of philosophy and the history of what calls itself philosophy. I have learned that the term worldview comes from the German word “weltanschauung”, which was coined by, I believe Schopenhaur in the 19th century.

      The reason he coined the term was because he was a proto-radical relativist who did not believe the cosmos was knowable directly, that all our knowledge about God and metaphysics is culturally conditioned, and that there is nothing we can do to overcome that condition. Everything we think about is determined by our “worldview.”

      In other words, the concept of a worldview itself arises from a radical relativist worldview.

      Schaeffer took this word, I believe from Van Til, and used it to awaken Christians to the narrowness of their thinking. Christian fundamentalism had taken everything that the Bible didn’t make a direct comment on and regarded it as either threatening or irrelevent. To caricature, they did not let their thinking affect their view of the world – or if they did, they eliminated vast swaths of that world from their view.

      Schaeffer showed that, in fact, the arts and politics and philosophy etc. etc. all were expressions of a worldview, a perspective. He helped Christians see that their worldview also had things to say beyond John 3:16.

      As one who was at least encouraged if not awakened by Schaeffer’s writings, I am profoundly grateful.

      But now that Christians have entered the public square again, I believe we need to reach a new level of clarity on this idea.

      A worldview is a practical fact of existence. We all wear our tinted glasses. However, to the Christian and to the classical philosopher, reality, morals, and what we now call aesthetics are knowable and known – directly and personally. We don’t need to be reduced to a Perspectivism. We only need to admit that we have perspectives.

      But Plato, Aristotle, St. John, St. Paul, St. Augustine and the church fathers all demonstrated that we can rise above our perspectives and see truth, goodness, and beauty itself and that we can measure the quality of our lives and words against these ideals.

      When we reach this point, the term worldview can be applied, but only if we slightly alter, or at least focus, its meaning.

      In its historical essence the terms speaks of a radical Perspectivism that I believe is unsound and inconsistent with the Christian tradition.

      In its practical use, it points to the reality that a set of internalized beliefs really does affect the way we think about and act in relation to every thing.

      The only terms adequate to describe the level of knowledge that serves as the foundation for all our thinking and action are either theology, philosophy, or metaphysics.

      So for practical purposes I don’t oppose the use of the word “Worldview.” But for philosophical and theological reasons, I would urge people to move beyond it and use terms that are more precise and appropriate for this more precise and much more difficult level of thinking.

      This is a difficult matter and requires great precision and discipline of thought, so I hope I have at least approximated clarity in my efforts. I welcome questions that will force me to greater clarity.

      • This was most helpful background to me, Andrew. As another soul “awakened” by Schaeffer, I appreciate the encouragement to move beyond that to something better. However, isn’t it still part of our goal as classical educators to make our students aware of their own perspectives and the perspectives of others where theology and philosophy are concerned? I suppose I could change the name of my class quite fairly to “Theology and Philosophy”, since we spend most of our time speaking in theological and philosophical terms. But the content, which focuses on understanding Truth from a Biblical perspective as applied to the human life, would remain unchanged. I guess I think I am teaching both theology and philosophy as disciplines in and of themselves, and as they are applied to other areas. I guess I am struggling with your definition of “Prespectivism”, and trying to understand how what I am doing might be considered that or not.

        • You make a distinction, I believe, between perspectives and Perspectivism. The latter argues that we are bound to perspective and that therefore we cannot actually know truth. It gets pretty precise at this point.

  3. I have enjoyed this post and was reminded of a comment S. T. Coleridge made:

    “…He told me that facts gave birth to, and were the absolute ground of principles; to which I said, that unless he had a principle of selection, he would not have taken notice of those facts upon which he grounded his principle. You must have a lantern in your hand to give light, otherwise all the materials in the world are useless, for you could not arrange them.”

    A proposition without a narrative framework is meaningless.

    For instance, whether one agrees with the above statement or not, it emerges from a particular train of comments in this post and is to a fair degree sensible. Set within an alternative post on this blog the statement may be utterly meaningless.

    A worldview is a lens through which one views the world. No lens is constructed in a vacuum. Whatever lens one chooses to look through, that lens was shaped out of a particular set of notions and beliefs concerning the meaning and purpose of life. Not only was it shaped, but it shapes the world one sees through it. The viewer also brings a particular set of notions and beliefs that are projected through the scope of the lens. A worldview is a complex network of stories comingling to construct a single coherent framework that attempts to make sense of life. One cannot speak of worldviews without at the same time assuming certain narratives that shape those worldviews whether consciously or unconsciously.

    I think the danger of worldviews is the notion that all worldviews are equally valid. I see this as the metaphysical snipping of the umbilical cord freeing man unto himself for himself. While all worldviews may attempt to give logoi, the universe (cosmos) can only proffer a single Logos who is All in All.

  4. Thank you, Chris. Good words and thoughts.

    I appreciate your input!

  5. Thank you for this response, Mr. Daniels. I think we are in much agreement here. I see your reminder as one not to miss the forest for the trees, if I may use that cliche. I appreciate the reminder that both systematic theology and individual propositional truths are a sort of short hand in regards to the Truth of Christ.

    I also appreciate the encouragement not to become entirely dependent on our intellectual assessments and miss Christ Himself. And while I agree that the Person of Christ, as the ultimate revelation of the Father (Col. 1:15-23), is the ultimate authority, our ability to know Christ is inextricably linked to Scripture. That is not to downplay the work of the Holy Spirit in our hearts, but we have to remember that the narrative we are to follow *is* Scripture, since it contains everything we need for life and godliness. This is exactly what Stephen did in Acts 7: give the Scriptural story with a broad stroke.

    One place I have seen my worldview students err is that, as is the wont of many students, they can sometimes apply their new-found intellectual knowledge in inappropriate ways. I have to remind them constantly that we are not studying these things so they can bash people about with their theological (or philosophical) two-by-fours. The purpose is not to “be right” and point out that every else is “wrong”. The purpose of our study together is for them to better understand God, the world around them, and to understand others so they might love and lead them into the Kingdom.

    As for the Newtonian part of the argument, I leave that entirely between you and Brandy’s husband. 🙂

    Thank you for the stimulating conversation!

  6. Thanks folks for your thoughtful responses. I am thankful for your work and hope God continues to bless it.

    I would like to make explicit what may have been only implicit in my blog. I am not against worldview thinking, writing and teaching. My fear is the same fear that I would have with an overemphasis on systematic theology as a means of studying the Person of God. Ultimately, we must move though and beyond the the systems and propositions to Scripture and its application to life. If “worldview thinking” is being used in this way, then I am satisfied.

    My goal is for Christians to see the limitations of philosophical structures and propositions. I understand and believe that we must have propositions – true rational deductions and statements and structures are not “less true” than narrative. Truth can definitely be embodied through propositions. However, we must realize the limitations of philosophy and formal logic. While they are more specific, they don’t fully capture the nuances of persons and life. It is the difference between knowing the proposition that “Gandalf is wise” and reading the story. There are some things that can’t be fully conveyed through a statement or structure.

    I do agree that orthodoxy doctrine propositionalized is true. I agree that Scripture is 100% accurate and true. But I also believe that the Person of Christ is the ultimate authority above Scripture. The Person of Christ establishes a hierarchy by which we view Scripture – the story centered on Christ keeps us from making too much of parts of Scripture in relation to others. In that way, I would contend that propositional truth is subordinated to the Person of Christ as protrayed in the narrative of Scripture. A good example of fighting propositions with narrative in this way would be in Acts 7 as Stephen contends with the Pharisees.

    In relation to Newton and the 20th century, we may have to agree to disagree. I believe that history shows a fundamental shift in the philosophy of science to a mechanized view of the universe at the time of Newton. I also believe that the reason that we had to “retreat” from the philosophical and rational arguments of the 20th century because they sought to develop structures detached from the narrative of Scripture. But, those are not hills that I would die on.

    Thanks for your comments – good thoughts to consider.

  7. Greetings. 🙂

    After reading your post, I emailed it to my husband, who has written a book on worldview (a sort of primer, if you will) that is being used by at least one private Christian school that I know of. I wanted his response. I thought it raised enough questions that it was worth posting his reply to me here, and he granted me permission to do so. I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on his comments, as well as the comment above from Chris.

    My thoughts about Quiddity, in order of appearance in article:

    1. “Philosophy,” despite seeming lifeless and scientific, serves as a tool to help people think more clearly about life, to categorize what they experience and to draw important distinctions: true/false, right/wrong, fact/opinion. These are all good things and ought to be encouraged more, not discouraged.

    2. There’s nothing wrong with Newton’s description of God as an engineer. Scripture uses metaphors and analogies constantly to help people better understand the attributes and activities of God. No metaphor is perfect; its purpose is to provide insight into one thing only — not to extrapolate consequences flowing from the analogy. It’s as inappropriate, therefore, to draw conclusions from the “engineer” metaphor about the universe being a mechanism as it is to conclude that PETA activism toward sheep is justified because Christ is described as the Good Shepherd.

    3. Truth is not only manifested in the person of Christ. It is revealed in the words of God (i.e., Scripture). Words are carriers of meaning, and that meaning can be true or false. To base our Christian lives chiefly on the vague notion of “narrative” because a Person is called Truth is to overlook other biblical statements that assert that words are true or false. We cannot cherry-pick what to call truth. And it is a mistake to absolutize any one aspect of Scripture to the exclusion or diminishment of any other.

    4. We did not lose the “rational propositional battle” in the 20th century. The modernists, knee deep in Darwinian theory, changed the rules of the game by redefining terms so that Christianity was not a “scientific” option to consider. We didn’t lose that argument; we were not invited to the competition. Only now is that changing. As for postmodernists, they didn’t even show up for the game; they began playing their own nonsensical, mystic sport. In short, Christian philosophy in the last century did not lose; it largely retreated. But the arguments will win on a level playing field.

    5. The writer’s willingness to embrace “rational propositions (logical)” is good, but it’s all couched in “the Person of Christ” again, which is vague. What does this mean? Any story, narrative or myth that the writer elevates as the model for Christian living must, must, must be subordinated to propositional truth, not the other way around. Yes, we should follow the example of Christ — no arguments against that teaching — if that’s what he means by living by the Person of Christ. Let us not neglect, however, the clear pattern of Scripture that shows words (i.e., propositions) being used to convert the soul, teach wisdom, bring instruction, glorify God, reveal truth, etc. Biblical propositions are the guard rails within which we can discuss issues and live our lives in orthodoxy.

  8. Mr Daniels-
    You have provoked me to think about this as a teacher of a “worldviews” class to home-schooled high school students. While I am challenged and encouraged to keep the narrative of the gospel in mind and not to reduce things to philosophical constructs (or de-coonstructs), I wonder if keeping things purely on a narrative level goes deeply enough. I see my four-semester worldviews class as an introduction to the theology and philosophy of many different discipline areas. My goal is to help encourage the application of the Christian story to the real world. Some of the theological and philosophical ideas and applications we study provide a wider vocabulary for my students and myself to approach the world around us, and I think that is a positive thing.

    I agree that “worldview” has become a catchy idea, a fad among Christian educators, and as with any fad, can have many draw-backs. Many look at “worldview education” as a perfect, simple fix to what ails us as a society. Any time we think we have found a simple fix to the cultural problems around us, we are treading dangerous ground. However, when “world and life view” instruction has as its goal a consistently biblical approach to the world and its problems, and real discipleship from the teacher, it is really nothing more than applied Christianity.

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